Search Singularity

This week’s Google Search event has provide some interesting announcements as to the future of search.  Google’s real-time search is another step towards an immediate index of what is happening in the world being at your fingertips.  The addition to mobile search by voice, location and sight brings immediate results with you anywhere.  These technologies are in the infancy but provide a peek into the future.  Who would have thought that search engines, specifically Google, would have advanced so much in the past 10 years?  Immediate answers to any query imaginable has all kinds of ramifications to those searching and those trying to be found.

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Understanding Links

This week the Official Google Webmaster Blog had a series of posts on links.  If you haven’t subscribed to their blog feed yet, you are missing some great tutorial articles that are valuable for all knowledge levels.  One article each day provided an overview of three different link types and their role in Google’s (and all search engines) indexing and search results.

Internal Links

The key takeaway on internal links is twofold: maintain a shallow link hierarchy so pages can be reached with as few of clicks as possible and use descriptive anchor text.  In addition to to a link architecture that allows pages to be accessed quickly, you also need to make sure your internal links are visible to search engines.  Some sites use javascript or flash for navigation menus which sometimes make the navigation links invisible to search engines (and unaccessible to some visitors).  I recommend small site owners avoid these methods and use CSS hover methods to hide and display menu sections.

External Links

External links are often overlooked by site owners.  They focus on their internal link structure and incoming links instead.  External links are important as proof of a human behind a site.  Humans link to related content which provide background, commentary or opinions on topics they are discussing.  Visitors give more credibility and are more likely to follow sites which have links to back up their opinions or provide background information.  Linking to others in an non-obligation way also encourages others to link to content on your site they enjoy, providing great incoming links.

Incoming Links

The article on inbound links is worthy of a read.  A quick explanation of how inbound links affects ranking is followed by tips on getting inbound links.  The most important thing to remember is you will likely need to cultivate relationships to attract links.  This means writing quality content, being passionate about your site and making your site known in your niche market.  Sometimes this means creating the online industry for your niche as the members of it are not web-savy.  This may mean encouraging members of a community or industry to start their own websites, blog and subscribe to feeds.  Once a small group of people start organizing an online community this way, starting conversations and linking to each other the community will be more discoverable and more likely to grow.

Crawling Dead Ends

Search engine dead ends are something you have to remind site owners about, as they do not think about the web in terms of how a search engine navigates a site, just how people do, particularly themselves. If they can navigate to said page, then everybody can is their thinking.

Google recently announced they are experimenting crawling through web forms on a small, select group of high quality web sites. Is this notice that soon any site owner will be able to hide content behind web forms and expect it to be crawled? No, I don’t think so. First, there are other search engines to think about; Google is not the other engine. Second, the coverage from Googlebot crawling through web forms certainly will not be as extensive as link crawling.

While this search advancement is welcome, I don’t think it should change how good, accessible sites are designed. The advice that Matt gives in his fictional site review still stands. If you need to place a selection of some kind in front of content that you need crawled (like your whole site), it is best to do this with links rather than a web form. There are other reasons for maximizing the content on the site’s main page rather than it being a simple portal with an image and region dropdown.

Google Summary of Paid Links Policy

Published today was a summary of Google’s consistent policy over buying and selling links. It is worth pointing out to site owners. A frequently asked question by someone with a “big idea” and wants their site up and running on the web in two weeks with loads of search engine traffic on launch day is “Can I buy links for search engine placement?”. Of course they can, but against my recommendation. If they choose to do so, I choose to not get involved with them. Some people just see money as a short cut and understand once they read the webmaster guidelines. Others could care less about the rules, they are more interested in gaming the system and trying to get away with it. I think that effort is much better spent elsewhere.

Much of the anti-Google sentiments on the web I believe is from site owners who provide no value whatsoever, and are still trying to eke out revenue from link doping or other paid for links strategies as were employed over five years ago (Remember searching on a topic and ending up on a page full of links that had no relevance to your search in terms of actual content? See examples of today’s methods). Google is not the monopolistic dictator in this regard protecting big business/themselves as is often portrayed. There is a universal desire among all search engines to protect their indexes’ PageRank or equivalent from manipulation from paid links. I commend the search engines proactive work in this area, keeping their indexes unpolluted and user trustworthy. I feel the whole Internet becomes much less useful if the search engines were ever contaminated this way.

Other Search Engine Developments

Just a quick post to note these two links. First, Microsoft’s Live Search team announced the release of their Live Search Webmaster Center as a public beta this week. A quick review of the service shows promise, with valuable link and rank information shown for my site immediately after registering and verifying. I did have to switch to Safari, however, as I could not get my site registered in Firefox or see my site in Firefox after registration was completed in Safari. I thought it was a cookie issue, but after many retries I was not able to get Firefox to work, even after removing cookies, closing the browser, clearing the cache, etc. Once again, I believe it is important for any serious web site owner to be registered with any tools the search engines provide. This is the method for notifying search engines of new content (and sites) and getting reports of issues on your sites.

Also, the Yahoo! Search Blog has a nice summary of a SEO workshop talk, covering the topics of spiderability, duplicate content, linking strategies, fighting spam, and blended search, social marketing, behavioural search, and local issues. Many points a stress when talking to customers are reiterated here, including site structure, content is king, descriptive link text and the potential consequences of spamming the system among other, new and interesting points. A good read to reinforce tactics available to achieve your site strategy.